La Ronde

France 1950, 93 mins
Director: Max Ophuls

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the film ‘s ending.

In Ophuls’ imaginative, highly personal adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play, he added an omniscient narrator/master of ceremonies, played by Archers regular Walbrook, admired by Powell partly for his ‘enigmatic and elegant personality’. His wit, detachment and charm are wholly apposite as he introduces and comments on a carousel of erotic encounters involving characters of different social status in 19th-century Vienna.

A contemporary review
The release of La Ronde in London is exceptionally good timing. For Max Ophuls’ film, gay, stylish and civilised, has already in a way become a part of the Festival which its Curzon run is likely to outlast. The immediate success of La Ronde is due neither to the X certificate nor to sensational reports of its wicked daring (useful as these factors will no doubt be in recovering the large price paid). There was an audience waiting for the film before the critics had time to write about it, an audience who had sensed the very special expression of a very personal talent.

I am unacquainted with Schnitzler, but he has clearly been as delicately and firmly bent to the design of Ophuls as was Stefan Zweig in Letter from an Unknown Woman. La Ronde is a comment, romantically phrased, on the deceptions of love. It is framed in the stylised elegance of Hapsburg Vienna at that period when, the days of power over and the decline well advanced, it earned the title of ‘gay’ and launched a thousand musical comedies. But, in all of the nine episodes which are linked together in a roundabout of love, the situations and the dialogue take us wittily, painfully and poignantly close to the life we know today. The thesis: that in the pursuit of love we deceive first ourselves and then our partner, who repeats the process, and so on and so on.

Thus the prostitute gives herself free to the soldier who can’t be rid of her too quickly or too rudely in order to seduce the maidservant who, when he has become vulnerable to her through love, betrays him with the young master. And he in his next step to manhood forsakes the maidservant to seduce the young wife, who returns guiltily to the sanctimonious husband who is deceiving her with the shopgirl he has set up in an apartment. She in turn becomes a ready victim of the egocentric poet who, tired as soon as he has started the affair, resumes his amorous duel with the actress whose ruthless self-love is even greater than his own. She in turn avidly pursues the Count whose coldblooded ceremonial dissipations lead him out of her arms into those of the prostitute of the original episode. And what more ironic and fitting than that on his way out the Count should run into the original soldier on his way in – seeking the only comfort procurable?

It will suffice to list the players in the order of their appearance and to state that, with the exception of the last two, they give the faultless, apprehensive performances without which the whole delicate structure would have crashed. They are Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gélin, Danielle Darrieux, Fernand Gravey, Odette Joyeux, Jean-Louis Barrault, Isa Miranda, Gérard Philipe.

The story is set in motion by Anton Walbrook, unrecognisably polished and sympathetic after his years on the English screen. As master of ceremonies, commentator, and minor participant in the piece, he steps from the present day into the romantically misted Vienna of the past, and in the deserted square starts the merry-go-round (literally) and the first adventure to the tune of a waltz by Oscar Straus. This haunting waltz tune recurs throughout the film and becomes an ironic signal of the act of consummation; of love’s triumph or defeat, whichever you will.

Though Ophuls can leave you in little doubt – for the episodes build up to an increasingly bitter comment, and the two final scenes cruelly mock the plight of their trapped victims. Yet he is less successful with these culminating scenes than with the open and gaily cynical earlier passages which prepare the way. To be fair, there are signs of some clumsy and harmful cutting in these two stories, but to be equally honest there are greater signs of serious miscasting in the selection of Gérard Philipe for the count and Isa Miranda for the actress.

In the exchanges between the young wife (Danielle Darrieux) and the husband (Fernand Gravey), La Ronde touches the apex of brilliance. The cutting, the magical movement of the camera round the beds, the dialogue, the acting, contribute to a wickedly amusing double exposure of the delusions of marriage and of adultery. Ophuls was never happier, nor for that matter was Danielle Darrieux.

It is not really surprising that Ophuls can still invest the cliché of Old Vienna with all the elegant raptures that Lubitsch, among so many, could never encompass. But to do it with so little ostensible elaboration denotes the true romantic artist. And this is not to demean the invaluable contributions of d’Eaubonne (decor) and Matras (camera).

To me La Ronde suggests a Mozart Theme and Variations, at once formal and gay, cynical and tender, romantic and ruthless.
Richard Winnington, Sight and Sound, June 1951

Director: Max Ophuls
Production Company: Sacha Gordine
Presented by: Sacha Gordine
Production Manager: Ralph Baum
Unit Production Manager: Renée Bardon
Administration Director: Grégoire Geftman
Production Secretary: Noèle Mouton
Assistant Directors: Paul Feyder, Tony Aboyants
Script Supervisor: Lucie Lichtig
Adaptation: Jacques Natanson, Max Ophuls
Dialogue: Jacques Natanson
Based on the play ‘Reigen’ by: Arthur Schnitzler
Director of Photography: Christian Matras
Camera Operator: Alain Douarinou
Assistant Camera: E. Bourreaud
Stills Photography: J.F. Clair, Sam Levin
Editor: Azar
Assistant Editor: S. Rondeau
Art Director: d’Eaubonne
Assistant Art Directors: Marpaux, M. Frédérix
Set Decorators: Merangel, Vergne
Costumes: G. Annenkov
Costumes Executed by: Madame Gromtseff
Make-up: Carmen Brelle
Music: Oscar Straus
Music Adapter: Joe Hayos
Sound: Pierre Calvet

Anton Walbrook (M. Poldy, the game leader)
Simone Signoret (Léocadis, the prostitute)
Serge Reggiani (Franz, the soldier)
Simone Simon (Marie, the chambermaid)
Daniel Gélin (Alfred, the young man)
Danielle Darrieux (Emma Breitkopf, the young woman)
Fernand Gravey (Charles Breitkopf)
Odette Joyeux (Sophie, the shop girl)
Jean-Louis Barrault (Robert Kuhlenkampf, the poet)
Isa Miranda (Charlotte, the actress)
Gérard Philipe (the count)

France 1950
93 mins
Digital 4K (restoration)

The Age of Innocence
Mon 16 Oct 14:30; Sat 4 Nov 14:20; Mon 13 Nov 17:50; Tue 28 Nov 20:20
The Private Life of Henry VIII
Mon 16 Oct 18:20; Tue 7 Nov 20:50; Mon 27 Nov 14:40
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Tue 17 Oct 14:30; Sat 21 Oct 12:30; Mon 20 Nov 20:30
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Tue 17 Oct 20:25; Sun 12 Nov 12:00
Phantom Thread
Wed 18 Oct 14:30; Fri 10 Nov 10:30; Thu 23 Nov 20:30
French Cancan
Wed 18 Oct 18:10 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Wed 1 Nov 14:30; Thu 9 Nov 20:30
Blood and Sand
Thu 19 Oct 14:30; Sun 22 Oct 15:00; Wed 1 Nov 18:10 (+ intro); Sat 18 Nov 20:30
An American in Paris
Thu 19 Oct 20:50; Tue 24 Oct 20:35; Thu 23 Nov 18:00; Sun 26 Nov 11:30
Fri 20 Oct 20:45; Mon 30 Oct 14:30; Sat 18 Nov 11:40
The Tempest
Mon 23 Oct 20:40; Sat 18 Nov 13:00; Wed 22 Nov 18:20 (+ intro by Claire Smith, BFI National Archive Senior Curator)
Wed 25 Oct 18:30 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator); Sun 5 Nov 12:00
Black Orpheus Orfeu Negro
Thu 26 Oct 20:35; Wed 15 Nov 18:00 (+ intro by journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre)
Wings of Desire Der Himmel über Berlin
Fri 27 Oct 18:00; Tue 21 Nov 14:30; Sat 25 Nov 20:25
Do the Right Thing
Sat 28 Oct 20:40; Fri 17 Nov 18:10
The Queen of Spades
Sun 29 Oct 12:20; Tue 31 Oct 14:40; Wed 8 Nov 18:20 (+ intro by Josephine Botting, BFI National Archive Curator); Thu 16 Nov 20:40
Thu 2 Nov 20:50; Fri 10 Nov 14:30; Wed 29 Nov 18:20 (+ intro by writer, curator and researcher Jenny Chamarette)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fri 3 Nov 20:50; Sat 11 Nov 20:40; Fri 24 Nov 18:15
La Ronde
Tue 14 Nov 20:45; Sun 19 Nov 12:00; Thu 30 Nov 18:20

Never miss an issue with Sight and Sound, the BFI’s internationally renowned film magazine. Subscribe from just £25*
*Price based on a 6-month print subscription (UK only). More info:

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email